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meal planning – smidge’s way

Just over a year ago B and I’s food shopping bill was out of control; we were spending £10 here, £20 there popping into the small supermarket on the way home to pick up a pizza (and wine)… it was a total scattergun approach to meal times and it was costing us both financially. It was also costing me my health too as despite all the cameras inside me, food elimination diets and food allergy testing, I still had no idea (apart from weirdly, tiger bread) what would set me off.

Around the same time, I also realised that when I was stressed, cooking helped.  It wasn’t about the actual eating of the food but the process of preparing a meal that relaxed me. A tiny little light bulb went on in my head and I made a conscious decision to change my ways; more time in the kitchen for me, better food (and a fuller wallet) for both of us. We decided that from that point on I would cook everything from scratch and on a £200 a month budget  – for all meals, for two people, lunches and dinners – I am not promising we make that budget every month but I get pretty damn close!

We eat the Paleo diet 80% of the time (you can read my other Paleo posts here) and this is how we do it:

  • I meal plan every week (and do it online) - every sunday I choose 5 recipes for the week which I usually find via pinterest. I actually must admit I didn’t really understand pinterest until I started using it to find recipes but now when I have a spare moment I pop online and update my Paleo board with new AIP, Whole 30, and Paleo recipes so when it comes to my Sunday meal planning I have plenty of choice. The paleo diet (and the more restrictive variations like AIP) is my usual diet as it never uses packets or pre-made ingredients which immediately helps reduce the possibility (or craving!) for anything that could possible make me sick. I also look for ‘normal’ recipes where non-paleo carbs can be easily substituted for paleo alternatives.
  • I have a fully stocked larder - oils, vinegars (sherry, white, red) raw honey, muscovado sugar, gluten free worcester sauce (the only packaged sauce I use!) vegetarian bouillon, gluten free stock cubes and as many spices as I can fit in my kitchen. I buy jars of garlic, lemongrass, chilli, ginger for ease, but if you have allergies check the ingredients first. Having all the basics in means a much cheaper and quicker shop each week, it may seem more expensive at first but I promise it is better in the long run.
  • I don’t stick to the plan - most meals can be changed at the last minute if you don’t fancy them; planned a shepherds pie? Make meatballs instead. Even though I love cooking, and I want to make meals which test out new skills or flavours, on days I really don’t want to cook I don’t want to be faced with having to make something elaborate.  Each week I always choose a couple of easy recipes which I can throw in the oven or modify and forget about so I have more lounging on the sofa time.

As an example, this was last week’s meal plan:

  • This week’s soup – french onion (I made massive pot made on Sunday and it did us for the week for lunches)
  • Monday – chicken wrapped in pancetta, stuffed with garlic & herbs, served with left over veg from the sunday roast and topped up with some extra leeks & cabbage (done!)
  • Tuesday – goats cheese salad with sticky onions (made with sherry vinegar & brown sugar) and garlic & herb croutons to go with this as a non-paleo treat (done!)
  • Wednesday – my slow cooked bbq ribs with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob (done!)
  • Thursday – stuffed peppers with corgette, onion and chorizo, served with butternut squash chips (we actually ate in the pub!)
  • Friday – Moroccan shepherds pie – I was planning on using this recipe from Our Four Forks with balsamic sprouts (we actually had steak, sweet potato fries and wilted spinach)
  • Saturday – we usually eat out (which has a separate budget!) or have a steak as a treat (we also ate in the pub!)
  • Sunday – a roast dinner bought on the day with whatever veg I have left from the week (a curry with the mother-in law for Mother’s Day)
  • Breakfasts – eggs, bacon, avocado, tomato, spinach…. oh and chilli sauce!

goats cheese salad

Goats cheese salad with sticky onions

chicken pancetta leeks

Chicken with pancetta and leeks

paleo breakfast

Paleo breakfast

Now it hasn’t been plain sailing; as you can see we made it to Thursday without it all collasping. However it is a huge improvement on what we were doing before. I still find on days that i’m particularly stressed that I reach for the takeaway app on my phone (I crave sushi so often!) or suggest a ‘date night’ on the way home from work, but  I know that if I can get myself into the kitchen and actually start cooking that I will love it. I instantly relax, the stress goes out of my head and I focus on what is in front of me.  I also know I can actually cook – I have a good base starting point which means I rarely feel like a failure…. which is always a good thing!

Mrs S x

Paleo Hacks

I eat the Paleo (Primal, Whole 30) diet.

This is because:

  1. it makes me feel a lot better about myself; I am less sluggish, lighter and it beats the bloat,
  2. processed foods and ready meals tend to set off my IBS and contain things I don’t understand; and,
  3. I (think) it makes my dermatitis and rosacea better, well at least it reduces flare ups.

However I can admit that Paleo can be a total hassle (i’ve ranted about this before) but now I’ve been eating and cooking the diet for a few months and i’ve settled in to it a lot more I thought i’d write a guide to Paleo & my favourite Paleo hacks and tips. Btw before you read this, please please please remember  1) I am not a nutritionist and  2) I have no body hang ups or pre-conditions that make me treat food in an unusual way. This is my interpretation of a diet that hasn’t been scientifically proven, so please interpret things your own way. Mine is not necessarily the best!

Eat paleo at least 80% of the time…. and eat a balanced diet at all times

Don’t stress yourself, this is not a diet where you will be counting calories, so slipping up (or purposely cheating) is ok. Obviously if you are removing gluten, dairy or any other allergen because you are allergic to them or have a digestive disease, then don’t eat them. Eating 80% healthy and then stuffing yourself with overindulgence the other 20% is not a good way to approach food however you look at it.  A glass of red, proper 70% chocolate and milk in a single coffee to get you going in the morning is not going to ruin everything. Keeping things in balance will.

Don’t panic about not having enough starchy carbohydrates

Paleo is a low carb – high protein diet; which means no bread, white potatoes, pasta, rice, lentils, couscous etc… basically you aren’t allowed to eat anything which has been cultivated, or made from cultivated products. If like me you used to live on sandwiches, potatoes (or pasta) going paleo will mean at first you will miss stodge. What this really means in nutrient terms is that you are cutting out starchy foods which give you energy (plus there is nothing to soak up lovely sauces!) and your body will crave them.

However, there are lots of vegetables that that are just as good in starch terms and that will fill you up just as well:

  • roast veg is the easiest to cook – just bung a mix of carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potato, beetroot or squash in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • mash up whatever you can – either as a side dish or as a topping for mince dishes – you can use cauliflower, sweet potato, celeric, or carrot and swede.
  • Make a gratin – squash works well with this as it keep some bite. I won’t tell anyone if you use a little full fat cream or why not try coconut cream.
  • make an alternative – spiralize veg such as sweet potatoes for noodles and grind up cauliflower and fry off for rice (though this is not my favourite to be honest but a lot of people seem to love it by the amount of recipes there are on pinterest)
  • add spice – roast butternut squash with cumin makes an excellent side to curry dishes, plantains also work well if you are cooking anything north african.

Choose the right type of protein 

Once you’ve got over the fact that a simple bowl of pasta is now a treat, and have stopped focusing on the carbs you will find that most paleo recipes call for a lot of meat; especially bacon. Now I don’t like to eat meat everyday as it makes life very expensive and eating lots of meat isn’t exactly balanced in terms of fats and with bacon, lots of salt. We can’t all afford grass-fed beef from the best farm in the Scottish Highlands either.

So for balence, replace meat with fish, or to keep up the protein on meat-free days work in more eggs (try frittata, or crustless quiches) eat avocado with everything (it is a good fat – promise!) and never let your fridge be without kale & spinach. Saute kale with onions, red pepper or chilli flakes and red wine vinegar, or bake it in the oven as crisps.

pork roulade paleo

Pork roulade stuffed with spinach, bacon and mushrooms

Keep an eye on what vegetables you are eating

All the vegetables I have mentioned above are paleo, but if you really want to go the whole hog you need to cut out legumes as well. A legume is the fruit or seed of a plant and they aren’t Paleo as they contain toxic anti-nutrients called lectins and phytic acid. Lectins are blamed for the newest craze in tummy problems, the leaky gut (i’m not yet a believer) and phytic acids can prevent you absorbing minerals.

I’m not 100% convinced by this, and I do miss a chilli without kidney beans so I do occasionally use them. Alone they don’t contain enough bad stuff to cause me problems – its just that you replace refined carbs with beans (or lentils etc) to bulk up that you start consuming larger quantities. In general, to be Paleo, avoid any form of beans, including french beans, mange tout, and chick peas.

Do or don’t do dairy – you decide

So dairy isn’t Paleo. We didn’t milk cows back when the world was full of wild game; we just shot it with bows instead. But we do need milk and other dairy products as part of a healthy diet. As I think Paleo man would have milked a goat or two if they’d thought about it, I don’t totally cut dairy out. However, I do place it fully in my 20%, so I have whole milk, cream and good cheese as a treat. The rest of the time if I can substitute dairy with coconut milk I will. I have yet to go down the ghee route, although a lot of Paleo sites sing the virtue of clarified butter.

Don’t sweat the sweet stuff

Paleo recipes don’t call for sugar to be added so going on Paleo will mean you cut a lot of sugar out straight away; unlike all the hidden sugar in ready meals. However if you cook a lot of Asian food then raw honey is your friend. Go for the best you can afford to buy and use a little when you need a sticky sauce. The darker and unrefined the sugar the better. Same for chocolate. As i said at the start, a few squares won’t kill the diet stone dead. As for dessert, paleo baking is pretty crap, so unless you are allergic to certain ingredients, just eat your cake and enjoy it.

So what can you eat?

Well, i’m contantly cooking new Paleo recipes, so follow my Paleo Pinterest boards for ideas. My instagram is also a source of both great and crazy (but still tasty) disasters like this recent fritatta!


Are you cooking Paleo? Let me know!

Mrs S x

this girl can’t, not yet

By now you’ve probably seen the This Girl Can film. If not watch it. It has been made by Sport England to celebrate active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. One of the sports in the video is a Zumba class, shown to be exciting, energetic, and most of all, fun. It has taken the internet by storm and celebrated for its realism and positive message.

However, I have a tale of the other side, the reality of this, and one that we all really should be getting to the heart of.

Last week I did a Zumba class. Now I’ve done Zumba before, and had a little dance experience, but it had been two years since I’d followed a teacher (or watched myself in the mirror doing it!) so I was basically a beginner. I’d been looking forward to dancing again and spent the first 30 minutes of the hour class loving it. Yes I was uncoordinated, yes I kept messing up, but I was doing it with a massive grin on my face. I was one of the girls on the video.

Then something changed. At the water break the instructor made a beeline directly to me and in front of a class of about 15 women singled me out in front of everyone to tell me that it was ‘ok if I wasn’t getting it, at least I was moving’.

Lets repeat what I just said above, yes I was uncoordinated, yes I kept messing up, but I was doing it with a massive grin on my face. Thanks to some clumsy language from the instructor – that massive grin – was gone. For the next 30 minutes any co-ordination I did have totally disappeared, along any enjoyment of the class I’d been having. There were others in the class just as uncoordinated as me – maybe she thought I could take it as the smile I had on my face looked like confidence. It wasn’t.

So to the ‘This Girl Can’ film – whilst i’ll say well done to them for a highly commendable stance and a fantastic campaign and video – the video does not show how (although it is on the website) that “the fear of judgement is stopping many of us from taking part in exercise. But as thousands of women up and down the country are proving, it really doesn’t have to”.

Yes judgement. Judgement and the confidence to be judged. That’s what really stops people. Not the jiggly bits, not the red face, not the hard work. In any sport, as a beginner, you will be uncoordinated and hopeless at it. To get to the point that the girls are at in the video you have to have confidence in the beginning to show that you are hopeless, and more importantly confidence to be able to expect that the people around you – especially the instructor – will not judge you whilst you try and try and try again. If this happens, then this girl really can.

Mrs S x

EDIT: I just want to point out that despite this incident I am going back to Zumba, as despite one person’s comments, I do really enjoy it – and I deserve to #thisgirlcan

Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food – Paleo style

Saturday mornings in my house are dedicated to menu planning, and one of my favourite things, pouring over cookbooks. As B and I both do the Paleo diet (80% of the time – we do have breaks) planning what to eat takes a little time – especially when you don’t eat wheat, grains, potatoes, pasta or rice!


The problem is that there aren’t really many great Paleo recipe books out there – and most:

  • continue the Paleo obsession with creating replacements for foods you no longer eat,
  • fail to provide good carbohydrates to balance your diet. I am all about the balance, I do not want to eat low carb!
  • spend half the book explaining what you can and can’t eat rather than providing you with any recipes. I know what Paleo is, I want to be able to cook and eat it! and,
  • require you to buy a spiralizer or a mason jar (bloody hate the obsession with mason jars)

(Have you read my previous rant about the paleo diet btw?)

So after being burnt a few times, I’ve given up with trying to find specific Paleo recipe books. However, in my cooking endeavours I have found that most normal recipes can actually be made Paleo friendly with very few tweaks. I’ve also got my hands on a few new cookbooks recently I thought I’d combine a little cookbook review series with how to tweak the recipes paleo-style? What do you think? Basically if you are thinking of trying the Paleo diet I hope this will take some of the fear out of what you can and can’t eat and whether the Paleo diet is as boring as it first seems… first up is a book which seems to be everywhere!

Jamie Oliver – Comfort Food


I loved Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks since Jamie’s Great Britain came out – The Happy Fish Pie is one of my go-to-dishes. I’ve now a small collection which I often turn to when I am looking for something quick and easy, even if they don’t always turn out quite how they look in his book!  Jamie’s newest book, Comfort Food, is a little different to ’15 minute meals’ and the like as the recipes are hugely indulgent  and take a little time to make – how about lobster macaroni anyone?! but if you are looking to spend a few hours relaxing in the kitchen then they are perfect. The book is also gorgeous, my favourite to date, also contains Idris Elbe(!!) and has everything from burgers to Pad Thai.

As its an indulgent selection of recipes, it does contain a lot of paleo banned foods, but why not try…

  • Chicken Tikka Masala  –  use a gluten free stock cube, replace the paratha bread with roasted butternut squash, and If you aren’t eating yogurt, use coconut milk to marinate the chicken.
  • Curried fish pie – replace the potatoes with mashed sweet potato, it won’t look as pretty, but will be still damn tasty, and I use whole milk rather than semi-skimmed.
  • Winter night’s chilli – this is a pretty good paleo recipe, replace the sugar for honey and leave out the chickpeas.

…and If you aren’t on the Paleo diet, the next level steak and onion sandwich is utterly immense…



If you fancy doing the paleo diet you can follow my paleo recipe boards on pinterest. I am doing a whole 30 as well, this was week 1.

Losing the pounds and keeping the pennies!

Mrs S x

the problem with paleo

As you might remember I have now been doing the Paleo diet for about 4 weeks and whilst I have noticed a difference in my weight (being massively less bloated is the main change) I do have a few issues with it. Forgive me a rant? Just this once? I’ll give you a great recipe if you let me get through this one…

The problem with paleo as I see it is:

  1. Is something paleo or not? Who actually decides? For example the internet is divided on white potato. If the basis for the paleo diet is eating like primal humans, then surely the humble potato, thought to have been domesticated 8000 BCE is ok? Or is not allowed because of health reasons and it is because potatoes are chock full of starch which causes problems with blood sugar levels? Whatever it is I am confused and thinking of re-introducing a good old baked tattie into my diet occasionally, especially when I don’t need much energy (like at night)
  2. Creating replacements for things you aren’t allowed to eat. Cauliflower rice, spaghetti / noodles made with any vegetable that can be spiralized. Some of these things are fine as a way of eating your vegetables (apart from cauliflower rice, which is disgusting) but surely it’s better to get a clean break from old habits and find a new way of eating that doesn’t make you miss rice and pasta even more?
  3. The obsession with adding bacon to every paleo recipe. Bacon is cured by salt. Salt (or sodium) is not that good for you, we all know that. Yes you can buy the good type of bacon – cured with brown sugar and sea-salt – but even making choices doesn’t mean that throwing extra meat into everything you prepare is good for you. You could also replace this with liver which seems to be the next big craze.
  4. Using alternative flours. Coconut? Almond? Do you know how much these cost? They don’t even produce a good cake! The problem with paleo is that you can’t eat any form of flour apart from these, so even gluten free baking is out. This makes me very sad. Just like point 2 ive decided just to eat the things I can eat, not disgustingly soggy patties masquerading as cookies.
  5. Finding a good carbohydrate to balance your diet is hard. My view of a diet is one of balance, so the meat/fish/green vegetables needs to be balanced with some starchy carbohydrates (especially for B who lives a much more active life than me) and sweet potatoes get very boring after a while. The problem is that trying to find other varieties is hard, your local Asda does not stock cassava, taro root, or kohlrabi, for example which pop up as good things to eat on a lot of recipes.
  6. Recipes aren’t tried and tested. This means that they often go wrong, or end up in the bin. Cooking waste of time meals is not high up on my agenda. I end up sticking with recipes that just don’t use rice, pasta, bread… and honestly I haven’t been able to find that many of them and its getting kinda boring….

So what am I eating? Well, this is one of my ‘tried and tested’ paleo recipe successes:

Thai baked sea bass with sweet n sour salad & sweet potato wedges

You will need:

  • Sweet potatoes, I use one large potato each – Chop up the sweet potatoes and bake in the oven for 30 mins at 180 (or until the skins are getting crispy)

For the sweet and sour salad:

  • Cucumber
  • Avocado
  • lettuce
  • tomato
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (not strictly paleo but you can get clean versions which is just fermented fish and salt)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tea spoon sugar (again use brown if you are strict paleo or even raw honey)

Chop up the cucumber into ribbons and salt. Set aside for 10 mins whilst you chop the rest of the ingredients. Mix the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar together and taste for flavouring, the quantities are up to you. Pile up the salad and add the dressing when everything is ready.

For the baked thai sea bass:

baked thai sea bass

  • a fillet of sea bass per person
  • 2 red chillies
  • ginger
  • lemongrass
  • garlic
  • fresh coriander
  • olive oil
  • tin foil

Oil up the foil, pop on the fish, add ginger, lemongrass, garlic & the chilli. Add the fresh coriander and seal up the foil like a bag. Pop in the oven for 10 mins near the end of the cooking time of the potatoes.

thai sea bass and sweet and sour salad

Serve and enjoy!

Mrs S x